I came to Chelyabinsk with the invitation of a local education studio. Here teens learn different genres of photography, acquiring new skills in practice. My task was to run a master class where young talents and teacher of the studio will not only learn the techniques of photography, but will know how to make a visual project. We had five days to get to work and get to know each other.

LOCATION: Chelyabinsk, Russia
PARTICIPANTS: young talents, 13-17 years old
COLLABORATION: PhotoPixel creative studio


To understand what a photo project is and how a visual story is built within a series of photos, we practiced to tell stories during the photo game How to Speak Visual Language. I developed it using photographs from my real-life shootings and photo projects for international media and galleries.

The second task was to decide on the topic of our project. It should be something that meets the interests of today's youth, and related to the culture of the place where they live. That will help them to learn new skills through photography. After long discussions, we realized that the guys would like to tell a story that would be radically different from the image of a gray industrial city that Chelyabinsk has in the eyes of the rest of Russia and the state media. This was the beginning of our work, participants were about to become researchers and travelers without even leaving their city.


Our attention was drawn to the coat of arms of Chelyabinsk, which depicts a camel. One of the city legends has it that the city was a trading hub on the way of the Great Silk Road (the caravan road that connected East Asia with the Mediterranean in antiquity and in the Middle Ages). We thought, what if that was true? What if the largest communication artery stopped by Chelyabinsk as well - what would be the current appearance of the city then? What could teens tell foreigners and guests about the place where they were born? Now our task was to show visually something that does not exist. It's a challenge for real storytellers.

Camels were the means of transportation for nomads on the Silk Road. There several sculptures of these unusual for the Ural region animals are in Chelyabinsk. Local residents past them every day, but they no longer notice it and don't remember what caused their appearance. We decided to change this by transferring the techniques of studio photography into the urban environment. Teens physically separated the sculptures from the surrounding landscape with a large white background. Photographers usually use one to shoot in the studio. This is how we applied an artistic technique to documentary photoshoot. This adventure taught young Chelyabinsk residents not only new ways of filming, but also competent communication with locals - we had a lot of spectators who never seen anything like it before on the streets of Chelyabinsk.


Usually the story is largely built on the basis of artifacts found during excavations. For example, fragments of ceramics, parts of ancient inventions - everything that has survived and can tell about the time and place of its origin. Since the Silk Road came out of China, we began to think about what artifacts of Chinese origin we can find and photograph today. Going to the local Chinese market was the answer. First, it was a reportage photography training session in one of the most crowded places in the city. Secondly, we set up a field studio right on the market and photographed these fast-moving consumer goods that are shipped to other countries from China today. The guys created a catalog of artifacts, becoming scientists and archaeologists from the future: "What do people living in our century produce with the help of limited natural and human resources?"


The concept of the road has become important in our study. We decided to show what places traders and nomads would pass through if they really looked into the Russian Urals. Students of the studio brought their landscape photographs taken in the Chelyabinsk region. This is how we found another chapter for our project.


The final stage of work on any visual research is the selection of material and the connection of individual chapters together. For this, the guys and I came up with a special technique. First, the students drew a large map on which the Silk route actually passes through Chelyabinsk. Secondly, we used a red ribbon to lay the new route. At the final exhibition, we used the same ribbon to connect all the chapters of our exposition. 

Selection, printing and curation of the final exhibition became an important training part of our project. In one week, we completed the entire cycle of work on the project from search and idea to the final presentation to the audience. It has became a project on rethinking local history, and helping the participants to feel involved in the life of their city.

 

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